In the novel “Jane Eyre”, the author Charlotte Brönte explores the ideas of social class and how a childhood in poverty can impact someone psychologically. Brönte explores this through Jane’s character by at first setting her in a privileged house while she herself is an orphan with no relations. Because of Jane’s self-preservation instincts against John Reed, Jane is sent to Lowood as a young child by the aunt who despises her – Mrs. Reed. At Lowood, Jane discovers the harsh realities of class hierarchies in Victorian England. Jane’s treatment as a child provides an idea that is engrained in her unconscious way of thinking, that she is of lower class and she can’t do anything that might disrespect those above her. This idea is prominent throughout the novel, and the reader can witness this in Jane’s submissive behaviour at Thornfield. The readers can observe Jane’s love for Rochester through the development in her personality. She cultivates a moral sense, independent will, and self-image that transcend the constraints of class. Eyre’s experiences as a child affected her unconscious way of thinking but she began overcoming this traumatic childhood when she works at Thornfield.
Jane’s early childhood that is spent at Gateshead is detrimental as to how Jane develops as a person. John is portrayed as extremely spoilt when a doctor says he “should eat fewer cakes and sweetmeat”, whereas Jane is described as “a little thing”. This immediately sets an idea of class hierarchy. Because of this difference in social class, Jane immediately becomes the target of abuse for John. John “continually abused” Jane, but she “never had an idea of replying to it: [her] care was how to endure the blow”. During an episode described in detail by Jane, she was found reading a book behind a curtain. John finds her reading and exclaims “you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us”.
This tantrum moment further paints the picture of how important social class was in Victorian England. After this rant, John throws a book at Jane. At this point, “[Jane’s] terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded”. This ‘succession of feelings’ took the form of verbalised hatred with her crying out, “‘Wicked and cruel boy! You are like a murderer!’” This results in her being taken to the Red Room. As she is being led, Mrs. Abbot and Bessie both voice their opinions, with them saying “‘what shocking conduct, miss Eyre, to strike your young master’ ‘Master! Am I a servant?’ ‘no; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep’”. The statement “you do nothing for your keep” tells the reader how divided and stigmatised the less fortunate are, especially because Jane was only ten. This is a further declaration of social class, discrimination and hatred. The treatment of Jane Eyre in Gateshead impacted her life heavily, especially with how she began treating people that she saw as above her.
When Jane goes to Lowood, Jane further learns about Victorian England’s ideals through Mr. Brocklehurst and his totalitarianistic behaviour towards the orphans. The students at Lowood School are all orphans from impoverished backgrounds, and Jane is no exception. Despite her wealth, Mrs. Reed jumps at the opportunity to rid herself of the burdensome obligation of rearing the orphaned niece she “despised”. At Lowood, the headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, employs an array of brutal techniques to enforce submission from the girls, ranging from beatings to the purposely inedible and “disgusting” food, such as “horrible burnt porridge” and the withholding of water. Most significant, however, are the emotional abuses to which the girls, and Jane in particular, are subjected. Under Mrs. Reed’s directive, Brocklehurst singles Jane out as a child with a “strong will and deceitful”. She is condemned and ostracized, labelled a threat and a “bad seed”. This cruel treatment reflects Victorian class ideologies in which poverty was interpreted as a sign of physical, psychological, and spiritual failure. This chapter in Jane’s life displays the effort in which people tried to be rid of poor people and children.
When Jane left Lowood and started working at Thornfield, she began to fall in love with Rochester and her personality began developing into an independent, head-strong character. After going through many terrible things, such as the fire that was set by Bertha Mason, Rochester, her employer, becomes extremely fond of Jane, and vise-versa. He begins referring to her as his “little elf” and “wondering fairy”. Jane falls in love and begins displaying the ‘inadvertent passion’ that was frowned upon at Gateshead and Thornfield. This is shown when she left to visit Mrs. Reed after John Reed died. Rochester told Jane to return in a week, and when she came back in over a month, she did not fear the reaction of Rochester. This is extremely important in that she transcended the fears of disrespecting a person higher than she. Even after this, Rochester stated that he “missed those fiery eyes of [hers], that great thinking mind, unafraid to speak [her] thoughts”. This statement is extraordinarily substantial in that it describes in great detail how Jane surpassed the ideals of how a person should act if they are ‘beneath’ someone else. She cultivates a moral sense, independent will, and self-image that transcend the constraints of class because of Rochester.
Victorian England’s ideals are prominent throughout the novel. These ideals are portrayed through Jane Eyre as an orphan with no inheritance going through different chapters of her life living with wealthy people. It started with Gateshead where Jane began to learn that, because she had no money or relatives, she can’t dream to become better than the affluent. When she attended Lowood, Jane grasped the idea that impoverished people will always seem to be an inconvenience to the rich. Because of this type of childhood, where Jane learnt that she’d never be enough, Rochester brings back Jane’s personality by not looking down on her and treating her as a human being. Eyre’s experiences as a child affected her display of emotion and thoughts as an adult but began reverting back to a person with feeling when she begins to receive the love she never had.